Saints and sinners: The weekend’s talking points
Vroom vroom in Vancouver
South Africa’s march to the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series title looks unstoppable, but they encountered a hiccup in Vancouver.
Two, in fact, because they were held to a draw by England Sevens in the pool stage after Dan Norton’s double and then succumbed 19-7 to Simon Amor’s team in the final.
England (103) have now leapfrogged Fiji (100) to go second in the points table, with the Blitzboks (126) still well clear with four rounds remaining.
Continuity of selection is working a treat for England, whose 40-7 semi-final defeat of Fiji was one of the great sevens performances. Fiji barely touched the ball as England racked up six tries against the reigning series and Olympic champions.
Norton is joint first with Collins Injera in the all-time try list with 244 and he topped the Vancouver Performance Tracker table, with Dan Bibby third, but this is a team of equals. They remain the only side to have beaten South Africa (three times) in this series.
And there’s room for improvement because too many of England’s passes checked the receiver, costing those fractions of seconds that can make the difference. They lack South Africa’s speed onto the ball, and sometimes align deeper than necessary, but hey, they’re the second best sevens team on the planet.
Georgia on the agenda
A crowd of 55,000 saw Georgia beat Russia 28-14 in Tbilisi, keeping them on course for a seventh successive Six Nations B title.
The Lelos are now up to 12th in the world rankings – two places above Italy – and last week saw promotion to the Six Nations discussed at a Rugby Europe board meeting.
The 17-strong board, representing the 48 unions affiliated to the European governing body, voted unanimously to open dialogue about a “closer integration of competitions” and particularly access to the Six Nations.
Octavian Morariu, president of Rugby Europe, said: “We are open to consider all alternatives, either a direct relegation, the insertion of an annual or biennial play-off system; the integration of one or two teams or the set-up of a real European competition, etc…
“We are aware this process will require time to build a common project and achieve it. But we need to start a real collaboration in the interests of European rugby growth.”
As Georgia head to Bucharest for Sunday’s Rugby Europe Championship decider, this issue, quite properly, is not going away.
Kay Wilson was a non-playing reserve for Team GB at the Olympics, where the team just missed out on a medal, but life has been sweet ever since.
In September she was awarded a full-time professional RFU contract and at the weekend the Richmond winger scored an astonishing seven tries against Scotland as England’s women stayed on track for an expected Grand Slam.
In truth, Wilson, 25, didn’t have to do much for any of them – just run straight towards the try-line! – but her searing pace is obvious.
The 3G pitch at Donnybrook for the title decider against Ireland should be to her liking.
Freddie at the ready
Freddie Burns, the Leicester and England fly-half, was right to feel put out by the way his transfer to Bath was handled.
But true to his character, he has rolled his sleeves up and is doing his utmost to help the Tigers put their winter horrors behind them by winning silverware.
Burns, whose dad Jerry recently became the oldest player to appear for Combe Down’s 1st XV, at 58, had a super game as Leicester knocked out the Anglo-Welsh Cup holders Saracens, 32-10.
His game-clinching interception try necessitated am 80-metre sprint and secured Leicester’s first win at Allianz Park at the seventh attempt. Their last away win against Sarries had been at Vicarage Road.
Tigers, who have won the Anglo-Welsh Cup in its various guises seven times, now prepare for a Twickenham Stoop final this Sunday against Exeter.
The Chiefs, who are in their third successive final, beat Harlequins 24-7 in the other semi-final.
Exeter’s youngsters impressed greatly but the highlight has to be the moment when referee Dan Jones inadvertently jabbed Adam Jones in the face when he raised his arm unaware of the Welsh prop’s presence behind him!
The stat of the weekend was provided by Scotland coach Vern Cotter – eight concussions suffered in two away games.
After the heavy toll in Paris, Stuart Hogg, Ryan Wilson and Tommy Seymour all left the Twickenham pitch permanently because of head knocks.
England were always favourites to win but that disruption had a huge impact on the game, with two half-backs, Ali Price and Duncan Weir, deployed at wing and full-back respectively.
Are concussions creeping up, instead of down, as a result of players trying to tackle lower? I’m sure that, in time, a research study will tell us but for now it appears to be sheer wretched luck that’s afflicting the Scots.
I switched over to the Vancouver Sevens at one point at the weekend and within moments was seeing a Scotland Sevens player take a bang to the face.
You’re due some good fortune, Scotland.
This blog will be keeping tabs on New Zealand’s Super Rugby franchises, and until the weekend had seen plenty to cause the British & Irish Lions concern ahead of their summer tour.
The Blues v Highlanders match, however, should have made the Lions feel better. For two Kiwi teams, the skills execution was shocking, with up-and-unders being spilled, passes being fumbled and kicks going astray – one punt by Aaron Smith went through the posts!
“This is bordering on horrible,” said commentator Tony Johnson during a particularly scruffy period. For the record, Highlanders won 16-12 but both teams will expect to improve hugely in their next outing.
The pitch is for players
How intrusive should TV companies be to bring us ‘closer to the action’? Pre-match ‘pitch walks’ are harmless, even if the players interviewed rarely say anything of interest.
Flash interviews at half-time can make you a feel a little uneasy, because the player clearly wants to get into the changing room for the coach’s briefing.
But in-match interviews? A definite no-no! Brumbies wing Henry Speight had the misfortune to have a mic stuck under his nose as he walked back to his half after scoring against Western Force.
He was still catching his breath and we didn’t understand a word of his reply, but what on earth do TV executives think we’ll learn from this situation in any case?
Give the players some space! This tweet by Newcastle’s media manager Mark Smith sums it up nicely.
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